Progress Report


My foot is now described as "functional"  -   it finally got to the 12 degree movement this week and I can go down about half a dozen steps – haltingly but going down normally.  

My next goal is 15 degrees so I continue with the PT torture twice a week until then. 

We are having friends over for a Chinese feast tonight – the manservant is cooking, but someone has to go supervise….

More Italian photos:    a  church in Rome with a truly beautiful interior:


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Minerva’s Piggy


Santa Maria sopra Minerva is a basilica church in Rome – considered to be their only Gothic church. The basilica was built directly over (sopra) the foundations of a temple dedicated to the goddess Minerva – hence the name.

Two Dominican monks, with the great names of Sisto and Ristoro, started building the church in 1280 and it was completed in 1370. It was altered during the Renaissance and Baroque periods but was restored "back" in the 19th century. It is close to the Pantheon and the photos are not that great because they were taken from a moving vehicle:

Our driver took some delight in pointing out the slightly "off" proportions of the elephant in this statue which is infront of the church – it is called Pulcino della Minerva but our driver called it Minerva's Piggy.

In 1665, a small obelisk about 5.50 metres long, with hieroglyphs inscribed on each side, was discovered in a garden belonging to the Dominican monastery beside the church. Pope Alexander VII decreed that it be raised in front of the church and called for designs for a base to hold the obelisk. . A Dominican priest, Father Domenico Paglia was one of those who presented a design to the papal commission. His design had the obelisk resting over 6 small hills with a dog on each corner as the dog is the symbol of Dominican priests (Domini canes – "the Lord's dogs").

His design was rejected and the artist  Gian Lorenzo Bernini was asked to present a design;  his design was of an elephant holding the obelisk and was chosen because it represented fortitude. The inscription on one side, when translated,  reads ".. a strong mind is needed to support a solid knowledge".

Apparently, Bernini's elephant was inspired by a 15th century novel Hypnerotomachia Poliphili – one of the very first books ever printed in Italy – "Poliphil's Dream of the Love Battle" or "Poliphil's Dream of the Strife of Love" in which Poliphil encounters a stone elephant carrying an obelisk. In Bernini's design he had the obelisk resting on the elephant's back with nothing under the belly/between the legs.  

But … the Domenican priest Paglia argued that no weight should rest vertically above an empty space as it would not be steady nor long-lasting. Paglia argued that a cube should be inserted under the elephant's belly. Bernini strongly opposed this because he had already carried out other works where heavy pieces rested over an empty space – but the Pope insisted a cube be added to the statue. The sculptor tried to disguise the cube by adding a saddle cloth to the elephant's back but the change gave the statue a squat look which led to it being called Porcino della Minerva (Minerva's Piggy).

The final statue was carved in 1667 by one of Bernini's students, Ercole Ferrata and the name eventually changed to Pulcino della Minerva  (pulcino = small or chick) and was probably a reference to the short height of the obelisk.


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I have mentioned before that I live in a "transitional" neighbourhood or one which might be described as "iffy".  Lots of crime and colourful characters.

Last Sunday I happened to notice a couple of guys running down the street, past our house, followed by a heavy set girl – they didn't look like charity fun-run participants.  A fit-looking policewoman was catching up and a policeman brought up the rear at a (much) slower pace.   Police cars swarmed into the street blocking off the alley and the street – effectively trapping the teenagers.  There was a lot of gesticulating and shouting and separating and questioning.  I gave up watching because I have things to do so now I will never know what happened. 

Yesterday as I, and a whole lot of other people, were getting off the train at my station the doors suddenly closed trapping inside some who had been trying to get off along with passengers trying to travel further.  There was then a PA announcement that the train sitting at the platform would not be moving due to a  "Police Situation".  I don't know, but I always expected a "police situation"  might involve storm trooper type action or rubber bullets so I didn't wait around to see what would happen next….  neither did those fellow passengers lucky enough to get off before the doors closed.  

The trip home got weirder though as I was walking along the street I saw a man crawling, literally crawling on hands & knees, onto the road way – a 6lane roadway!  He crawled across one entire lane before staggering to his feet and continuing on with a drunken weave through the rush hour traffic.  People just stopped to watch this basically suicidal act – I don't suppose anyone was too keen to jump infront of traffic to stop him but it would have been a most unpleasant end to my day if he had been hit by a car or the proverbial bus.

Oh!  And on my way to work the other morning at 6.30am I was stopped by a guy who said "Hi, I'm from Kenya can you give me some money?"     I'm sorry, but that early in the morning, you have to come up with a better reason for me to give you money!    

This statue was somewhere in Rome -  it is called  "Boca de la Verdad" or "The Mouth of Truth".  You are supposed to stick your hand inside the mouth.  If you leave Rome with one less hand, it means you are a liar!    



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The calendar turns…. and thanks.


I am not a night person but with the help of caffeine and the Batman: Dark Knight, DVD, I managed to stay awake till midnight. I told the manservant that this is the last year I am going to stay up as the calendar turns whether I am up or not, and quite frankly I am a much nicer person if I get a full night's sleep!
More appealing to me is the idea to set the alarm for dawn and toast that first sunrise of the year with champagne.  (Yeah, well we'll see if that happens ….).
If I was asked to sum up my 2008  I would say my foot, my foot, my foot!  It certainly seems to have dominated my year but it was not, by any means, my entire year.
January:   I was getting ready to say goodbye to the Princess (daughter) who had spent 2 months visiting us.  

February:  My Economist son turned 21 and we decided to cash in frequent flyer miles and have a trip later in the year once he had finished his final exams at university.

March:    I spent the entire month gallivanting around in Australia. 

April:   The Pope came to town and totally disrupted my trip to work.    
It was Admin Day at work and I had to go Bowling (which I hate);  given a gift card which didn't seem to have value on it (and which I got taxed on in my December pay).
I fell down our stairs – but I did not hurt my foot.
May:    I posted photos from my year-ago trip to China – a wonderful experience – both the trip and the re-visiting. 

The first mention of my foot appears – in a meme where I mention that I don't think the (as then diagnosed) peroneal tendonitis is ever going to get better.
June:  Half the month taken up with a visit from my in-laws.   The other half a rodent family moved in.  
July:  Had an MRI; had my foot encased in the first of many hard casts and had a birthday – in that order. 

August:  Started the month with good news as my eldest son became engaged at the end of July:

I devised clever ways to carry things while on crutches.   On the 22nd I had extensive surgery on two shredded peroneal tendons and a torn ligament.   Passed the last week in a drug induced stupor.

September:  A whole month in an euphoric drugged state.
October:   I don't seem to have done much except complain about my foot –  I must have been cutting down on the drugs.
November:  After 114 days the cast came off!!   Obama, Obama, Obama. 
December:  I took my walking stick on a 3-week tour of Rome, Florence,  Milan and London.  (photos in order:  St Peter's Rome;  city of Florence,  snow in Milan;  London x 2).

During this whole foot saga I have received amazing support from my Vox neighbours.  I really appreciated people checking in to see how I was getting on.  I valued every comment and private message of encouragement.

I feel that I have vicariously walked, travelled, ridden bikes & horses, and exercised with everyone and I thank you all for such physical times! 

I wish everyone and their families a very happy and healthy 2009 – and if you are one who has made some goals for the year I hope you achieve them.

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Speeding through St. Peter’s.

Jeez – it was cold today!!  At least it was dry though so there was no ice.   I took the metro to work – my first trip to work on the train since the whole foot saga began in July.  Well, I could hardly go traipsing around Italy and London and then come home and go back to taking a taxi to work.

And…. it just confirmed that the Italians and Londoners are way more courteous than DC-Washingtonians!   I never stood once on a train on our trip – there were always 2 or 3 people jumping up to offer me a seat.  What happened to old fashioned common courtesy in this city?

My son put his photos of our trip on a memory stick for me and I have just been through them.  This one really appealed to me -  it was taken in St. Peter's Basilica in Rome -  it shows that really I have the speed of a vampire.

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Back to the grind..

Well the holiday is over and it is back to the grind tomorrow.

The trip home was awful…… the flight was delayed by 4 hours.  Four extra hours sitting in Heathrow airport is not much fun.  The flight was supposed to leave at 4.20pm landing me in DC around 8pm last night.  At first the departure board had "Please Wait"  listed instead of a gate number.    Then the dreaded "Delayed" sign appeared with no further information.   Eventually a time went up but it kept being changed to a later and later time until we finally departed at 8.30pm. The weather was clear in both London and DC and we were never really told what happened other than our plane had "landed at Gatwick" and then had to wait for a slot to reland at Heathrow…  Mmmm!

We landed in DC just before midnight.  By then they had made the announcement that every single connecting flight had left so there were a lot of unhappy people  – not least the 74 people who were flying to Orlando last night – some of them to go on a Disney cruise.

To try cheering these "connectors" up a bit they separated them from the DC terminators and took them to Immigration first and then brought their bags up on a different carousel before we DC people got ours!   Apparently they wanted to get these people to hotel rooms as quickly as possible – it didn't do much to mollify those of us living here!

Then I had been honest on the Customs form and written that I had food – so they sent me to the Agricultural Line – oh No!  I thought I was going to have to throw away my bloody expensive Fortnum and Mason Christmas Pudding!!

When you land in Australia there are signs all the way to Customs telling you that you can't bring fruit, meats etc into the country so to either eat it or toss it (bins helpfully provided).  The woman who processed me made a comment about me being Australian (the passport gives it away) and something along the lines that I should know better!  At this stage I was wondering if I could eat the whole pudding rather than throw it away – I was pretty hungry….. 

I said "It's commercially packaged, not some home made thing".   The fruit was the problem; but after running all my baggage through the scan machine they let me go with the pudding intact.   

By the time I got home it was almost 3am and I have felt decidedly "seedy" today.
I took this photo in Rome on the first day we were there…     I am going to need a bit of patching up myself,  to be able to get through my first day back at work tomorrow! 


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Cold at the Colosseum

It was a nasty day at the Colosseum – but then many animals, Gladiators and Christians had nasty days there.  

An able footed person could walk from our hotel to the Colosseum in 30-40 minutes but as one of us is not "able" I am glad the metro was operating even though there was a general strike today.  Even so there was a lot of walking for me today and a lot of steps – I am still doing two feet to each step but I think I am getting a bit faster!  

We joined a tour which was just starting….   hustlers approach you as you head towards the ticket queue and ask if you would like to go on a tour for an additional 10 euros and this by-passes the ticket line.  (I had read about this in my guide book so was not just going in blind).  It seemed a good idea – the group was only 11 people but it soon started to feel worse than a school excursion!!

It was pouring with rain so we would huddle under a little arch while the guy droned on and on and on.  He wanted us to imagine being there 2,000 years ago;  I wanted to hear more about the history.  He did cover what the different sections were for and where people sat – the women were relegated to the higher level apparently so that they would not be attracted to the sexy Gladiators in place of their "lord and masters".   From that height they would barely be able to see the "stage".  He talked about the earthquake which destroyed much of the structure and a lot about the "managers" of the Gladiators.    After about 40 minutes we were dismissed to explore on our own and that's where all the steps came in as we climbed to the next level.  (there were also a zillion steps at each metro station).

There was a general strike today (except for transportation) – unemployed and protesters about the inaction of government to help in the current economic situation.  Italy has just had its 3rd quarter of negative growth and is now in recession.

We did not get too close to the protesters – they were filling the air with red smoke – lots of red balloons, red placards and red clothing..   

If I am going to head to higher ground I will have to start now:  New York Times on Rome's rain   The Tiber river is about to burst its banks.  

An empty street – something not normal for Rome!! 

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Like Disney castle

My foot was so fat this morning that I had trouble getting it squashed into my shoe!  But, it was only 3 Celsius outside so the frigid air acted like an ice pack and my shoe felt a little more comfortable after awhile.

We walked to the cathedral – which is like a Disney castle – lots of gorgeous spires – in fact there are 135 spires.    

Milan's cathedral is the 3rd largest church in the world and has the tallest stained glass windows in the world (made in the 15th century).  

There are over 3,500 statues of saints, animals and monsters around the cathedral and there are five bronze doors with 17th century reliefs.

Dominating the city is the statue of La Madonnina at a height of 108.5 metres (sculpted in 1774).  With a point & shoot camera it was difficult to get a good shot:

There are 5 aisles separated by 52 piers (for 52 weeks of the year). 

We caught the lift up to the roof terraces – we were on the top terrace for a short time before they shut it because ice was forming!!.  We then got to walk around on the lower terrace.   The cost of the lift was 7 euros each; there was a 2 euro discount for climbing the steps (LOL – if only).  These shots were taken while walking around the terraces: 

The sun was in just the right position for this shot 

This evening we wandered back to see the Christmas tree lit up in the square in front of the Cathedral – this really did give that Disney feel: 

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Good bye Florence

We left Florence today and travelled by Eurostar (train) to Milan – a trip of nearly 3 hours.  After the relative quietness of Rome and Florence, Milan is absolutely bustling with crowds!  And, snow is forecast!

This is one of the last shots I took in Florence  – it was taken through an iron gate down near the River Arno.


I have so many photos of Florence and it is proving difficult to go through them effectively while I am on the road.  The price of internet is costly – interestingly our cheapest hotel was the one in Rome which offered free internet while the expensive hotels of Florence and this one in Milan charge 20 euros a day. 

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Pisa time

Yesterday was a huge day!   I had assumed that they would pick us up in a tour bus and we would drive to the Tower, in Pisa,  stop,  get out and take photos and then zoom back to Florence.


There were eleven tourists squished into the tiniest tour bus with a very good guide who pointed out things of interest on the one & quarter hour trip.   She was quite busy translating into English for the majority of us and then Spanish for three people.  (She also spoke German and of course Italian – coming across people who speak more than 2 languages is always a little humbling I think).  As we were pulling into Pisa she mentioned that we had a 10 minute walk from the carpark.  Oh-oh!   

My son & I muddled along at the back of the group – under pressure I think I walked a bit quicker than I have been.

The area of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is known as the Field of Miracles (Campo dei Miracoli) – there are actually four buildings – an incredibly impressive cathedral, the Leaning Tower (which is actually the bell tower to the cathedral), the Baptistery and the Camposanto Cemetery. 

The Tower was much smaller than I had imagined but then I had not realised that it was just a bell tower!  Legend has it that Galileo (Pisa born)  threw objects off the Tower and timed their fall.

The Cathedral was amazing – commenced in 1063 – the nave is 320 feet and the ceiling is gilded.  The pulpit is 15 feet tall. 

The Baptistery is the biggest in Italy and has great acoustics – we were given an example of this with a soprano singing.

The Camposanto Cemetery is famous for its "Holy Land" dirt which supposedly reduces a body to skeleton in a day. 

The writer of Pinocchio was born near Pisa and there were heaps of little Pinocchio tourist items – yes I bought a couple  LOL – they were the first "things"  I bought in Italy.

I was so tired when we got back to Florence that I could hardly drag myself out for dinner.  I love that so many places here have marquees heated with gas heaters so that you can still enjoy the outdoor dining experience:

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